“Drivers and Danica – Start Your Engines”

Daytona Beach, Fla. – Actor James Franco gave the command to start engines for the Daytona 500, and in thinking about a catchy phrase to use, the race grand marshal settled for “Drivers and Danica – Start Your Engines.” His choice of words may not have been ideal but given the excitement of the day, it has been overlooked.

Franco along with a host of celebrities, politicians and sports stars were among the hordes that showed up for the Great American Race. The luminaries were among those introduced at the pre-race drivers meeting, which was attended by a huge crowd.

NASCAR executive leaders Brian France and Mike Helton opened the meeting and made appropriate remarks. Thereafter, Helton introduced a large number of corporate executives ranging from the manufacturers’ ranks to television executives to corporate sponsors.

Also on hand were Florida Governor Rick Scott and Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll and other politicians along with football coach Steve Spurrier, New England Patriots Wes Welker, “Price is Right” host Drew Carey, rapper 50 Cent, pre-race performers Zac Brown and his band along with the stars of the Ducks Dynasty television program and legendary drivers A. J. Foyt, Johnny Rutherford and Bobby Allison and one of the newest members of NASCAR’s Hall of Fame, Leonard Wood.

While Foyt received a large ovation, the loudest applause went to members of the military and the attendees from Newtown, Conn. Michael Waltrip’s No. 26 car represented Newtown in the 500 and working with various sources, the team’s objective was to raise funds for those affected by the recent tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Honorary race starter and NFL superstar Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens garnered considerable attention. Once dropping the green flag, the imposing lineman stayed in the starter’s stand for a while to enjoy the experience.

The U. S. Air Force Thunderbirds were scheduled to do the flyover during the National Anthem, but a low cloud ceiling forced the cancellation of the flight. Although the six F16 Falcons were on the runway ready to go, they were not allowed to takeoff. According to USAF reps, it is rare for a flight to be cancelled.

While the celebrities, the fans, the race teams and others have gone home, Daytona Beach is quiet for a while but preparations are already underway for the 2014 Daytona 500 and the activities that make Speedweeks a success story.

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